Did you like the article?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Contribution of Christian Missionaries in India

Author : Camil Parkhe

Book on Contribution of Christian Missionaries in India

‘Contribution of Christian Missionaries in India’
Written by Camil Parkhe
Published by Gujarat Sahitya Prakash,
Post Box No 70, Anand, 388 001
Gujarat, India

Email: booksgsp@gmail.com

First Published in 2007

ISBN 978 81 8937 36 2

Price Rs 95.00 US$ 10.00


Foreword – Anosh Malekar

Preface – The author

1. RAMABAI SARASWATI – Pioneer of women’s liberation

2. Marathi, Konkani litterateur Fr. Thomas Stephens

3 Robert De Nobili – Father of incultaration in India

4. Fr. Nehemiah Nilakanthashastri Gore – First Marathi missionary
5. Journalist, kirtankar Satyavan Namdeo Suryavanshi

6. Padma Bhushan Fr. Camil Bulcke

7. Poet, missionary Rev. Narayan Vaman Tilak

8. Bharat Ratna Mother Teresa

9. Tamil poet Joseph Beschi alias Virmamunivar
10 Rev. Graham Staines: Burnt alive while in service of lepers

11. Fr. Herman Bacher: Pioneer of rural development

12. Historian Fr. Henry Heras

13. William Carey, social reformer and linguist

14. Padma Vibhushan Cardinal Valerian Gracias

15. Rev. Baba Padmanjee, first Marathi novelist, missionary
16. Social worker Manorama Medhavi
17. Editor-missionary Archbishop Henry Doering

18. Research scholar Rev Justin Abbot
19. Fr. Matthew Lederle, Proponent of inter- religious dialogue



I was introduced to the missionary way of life for the first time when I was a primary school student. I was then studying in third standard in St. Teresa Boys School at Haregaon in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra. In the 1960s, European priests were working in most of the mission centres in Ahmednagar district, as was the case in other parts of India. Most of these European priests were in their middle ages. Fr. Hubert Sixt, a strict disciplinarian, was the head of this rural primary school and Fr. Richard Wasserer was the local parish priest. Their personalities and nature differed. Children from the school and the hostel were friendly with Fr. Wasserer who was slightly elder among the two.

St. Teresa Boys School in those days was housed in rows of rooms with tiled roofs and small verandah. The local parish also owned a farm where a water tank was just constructed. Every morning, all of us staying at the school hostel would attend the holy mass in the church. The school would open at around 7.30 a m. Fr. Wasserer would take us hostelites to the water tank for a swim before the break of the dawn. Water was of course used to be warm at that time. Most of us hostelites took their first lessons in swimming there. Fr. Wasserer would help us to overcome the fear of water. Once when such swimming session was in progress, one of the walls of the tank got washed away and water gushed out, along with the children and the priest. Fortunately nobody was hurt.

The personality of Fr. Sixt was altogether different. The school students and hostelites were scared of this priest who had a German shepherd as his pet. However when any of the hostelites fell ill or got injured while playing, they would experience the care and affection of this priest. Fr. Sixt, a German who was drafted into the Nazi Medical Corps during the Second World War would personally examine the boys and give them medicines. If required, he also used to administer injections. The children dreaded the burning sensation experienced while applying iodine on fresh bleeding wounds or the injection needle. I think this fear had contributed to a great extent in creating fear about Fr. Sixt in our minds.

My two elder brothers were also in the same school and hostel. Children from nearby Ekwadi, Donwadi, Teenwadi (Wadi means hamlet in Marathi) and Undirgaon studied in the school. The lodging and boarding fee per hostelite was Rs. five per month. Nonetheless, many of the parents found it difficult to pay even this small fee in time. However, Fr. Sixt never admonished or expelled any hostelite for not paying the fees.

Today, Christian priests and nuns are running schools in several towns and villages of Ahmednagar district and also in the neighbouring Pune, Aurangabad, Nashik and Beed districts. But during those days, a large number of local Christian students from Shrirampur, Rahuri and neighbouring talukas in the district completed primary education in St. Teresa schools for Boys and Girls at Haregaon and shifted to Dnyanmata School and St. Mary's School at Sangamner in the same district for the secondary education.

At both places, they were accommodated in the hostels. Poverty was the major reason why people kept their children in these hostels. Besides, most of these students would have not continued their education had they remained with their families in the villages. The atmosphere in their families or villages was not education-friendly. The entire Catholic mission centres in Ahmednagar district then were founded and run by the Jesuits, the priests belonging the Society of Jesus.

Ahmednagar and Aurangabad districts are among the areas in Maharashtra where there is a sizeable number of Christians - Catholics and Protestants. The grandparents or great grandparents of these people had embraced Christianity in the 19th century.
After appearing for the matriculation examination from Dnyanmata or even before that, many students used to join St. Joseph Technical Institute in Pune, which was also run by the Jesuits. Fr. Ivo Meyer who founded the St. Luke's Hospital (also called as German Hospital) in Shrirampur was later director at this institute. The students who hailed from outside Pune stayed in the institute's hostel and acquired diplomas in various courses like turner, fitter, and wireman. The institute during those days provided trained skilled workmen to Pune’s reputed industrial units including the Tata Motors, Bajaj Auto and Greaves. Most of these students were interviewed at the St Joseph institute's campus itself and recruited by these companies for various posts.

These young Christians whose parents or grandparents were erstwhile Dalits (belonging to the erstwhile untouchable communities) and had no social or financial capabilities to take up graduation or post graduation courses. The Haregaon-Sangamner-Pune route proved very beneficial to these youngsters and their community as it led to their social and economical upward mobility. The number of Christian youths from Ahmednagar district who took this route is enormous. This path was followed by at least two generations. The financial status of the Christian families from Ahmednagar district, which migrated to Pune in search of greener pastures in this manner, is far better than those who lived behind.

This progress was possible only due to financial and psychological support offered by the missionaries to this otherwise neglected community. Although before their conversion, these Christians belonged to the erstwhile untouchable Mahar and other castes, they have been deprived of their right to reservations for education and jobs due to their conversion to Christianity. Ironically, reservations and other benefits are extended to their Dalit family members and other relatives who embrace either Buddhism or Sikhism and others who have continued to be Hindus.

With their limited resources, missionaries have enabled this community to be self-reliant and succeeded in granting them social status. Jesus Christ has said that ‘Man does not live by bread alone’ but these missionaries made efforts to ensure that this poor community secured their bread as well. A majority of Christians in India belong to the erstwhile Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. I have referred to the example of the missionary work in Ahmednagar district only to illustrate the contribution of Christian missionaries to the progress of the underprivileged sections of society. The missionaries have given a similar helping hand to economically and socially backward Christians and also others in different parts of India.

There are thousands of schools, colleges, hospitals, dispensaries, orphanages and other institutions run by Christian missionaries in India. A large number of persons belonging to the so-called cream of the society and working in various fields are the alumni of these Christian institutions. A majority of the beneficiaries of all these institutions are, of course, non-Christians. The reason being, these institutions are open to persons of all religions and castes. The Christians studying in a majority of these institutions may be hardly one or two per cent. The alumni of these institutions include the present President of India, Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam and several veterans from different walks of life.

The contribution made by Christian missionaries especially in the educational and social fields is noteworthy. It is often alleged that Christian missionaries make use of these institutions to lure or compel the students and others to convert to Christianity. The millions of non-Christians who have been educated in the missionary educational institutions and others who have availed of services in other Christian institutions only can vouch whether the allegation holds good. If the allegation were true, the number of Christians in the country would have increased manifold during the past century.
Missionaries offered free education and medical services in remote parts of the country both before and after Independence. They have never taken into consideration the caste or religion of the beneficiaries. The term ‘missionary spirit’ now has become synonymous to selfless and dedicated service even in Indian languages.

While carrying out their routine work, the Christian missionaries in the past five centuries have contributed a great deal simultaneously in the fields of literature, social awakening, education and medical services in various States. This book however refers to the life and work of only a few missionaries. There are also many missionaries who have now gone into oblivion despite rendering great service to society. A majority of these European who toiled in the drought-prone Ahmednagar district for several years have found the final resting place at the cemetery in Sangamner town. A souvenir released by the Nashik diocese to commemorate the 150 years of evangelisation by German Jesuits in western India contained the list of Catholic priests and nuns who worked at these mission centres. Fr. Joe Ubelmesser from Germany who said that he was adding the list to the German Jesuits archives in his message had rightly said that 'sometimes the cemeteries are containing more history than many books.'

While doing research on this project, I have learnt about the commendable service given by several Catholic and Protestant missionaries. My only regret is that it was not possible to write about all of them in this small book.

Camil Parkhe

May, 2007


  1. World's cheapest hostels are also some of the loveliest places in the world.

    Rio Pousadas

  2. Perhaps the 3% minority Christians run 30%
    of the private educational institutions in
    India. Besides, a greater percentage of
    hospitals are being operated by the Christian
    community. Majority of the non-Christians
    who had the privilege and opportunity to
    study in the Christian institutions remember
    with greateful heart. However, some crooked
    minded politicians of India have taken a
    weird route to attack the Christian minority
    by the misguided slogan of " forced conversion". I believe and pray that the former non-Christian graduates from all the
    Christian schools and colleges may take a
    solid stand to proclaim the truth to the whole
    world that they were never forced to change
    religion while attending Christian schools and colleges.